By guest blogger Ellen Wexler
In just one year, the number of teens who report using synthetic human growth hormone more than doubled, according to a new survey by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
Back in 2009, only 5 percent of teens reported “ever having used” synthetic HGH without a prescription, and annual surveys up to 2012 showed almost identical results. In the 2013 survey, that figure jumped to 11 percent.
The survey is based on a sample of over 3,000 high school students and 750 parents. Every year, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids conducts the survey to gather data on substance use, asking students and parents about their behaviors (what substances they use, and how often) and their perceptions (how risky they consider illegal substances, and how easily they believe they can obtain them).
According to the survey, African-Americans and Hispanics are the most likely to report using synthetic HGH, and young men and women use it in practically equal proportions.
“These new data point to a troubling development among today’s teen,” Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, said in a press release. “Young people are seeking out and using performance-enhancing substances like synthetic HGH—and supplements purporting to contain synthetic HGH—hoping to improve athletic performance or body appearance without really knowing what substances they are putting into their bodies.”
While teens do report using synthetic HGH to improve their athletic ability and appearance, it’s possible that more and more are trying it because they’re curious. The sharp increase in synthetic HGH use is accounted for entirely by teens who try it only once, while the number of teens who use it more than once remained stable.
The survey also found that teens are less likely to believe that using synthetic HGH is risky, compared to numbers from previous years. According to Pasierb, teens may not always understand that supplements sold in stores aren’t regulated, or that dangerous, untested products can be marketed as safe.
“Prescription and over-the-counter medicines must go through rigorous testing to be proven safe before being sold to the public, but supplement products appear on store shelves without regulation from the Food and Drug Administration and must actually be proven unsafe before being removed from sale,” he said. “That creates a false perception of safety driving impressionable teens to risk their health.”
But while so many products on the market claim to contain synthetic HGH, genuine synthetic HGH is administered via injection. It’s likely that some teens only think they have used the substance, the report points out, when really they’ve been misled by a clever marketing campaign. “It is difficult, if not impossible, to know what exactly is contained in these products teens are consuming,” Pasierb said.
For some drugs, teens’ decisions are guided (in part) by their parents’ opinions. When parents communicate their disapproval of marijuana, for instance, kids are less likely to become heavy marijuana users. But with synthetic HGH, the survey finds, parents are not communicating clearly. While 58 percent of parents report discussing performing-enhancing stimulants with their children (and as we reported last month, 51 percent think sports physicals should include discussions of performance-enhancing drugs), only 3 percent believe their child has ever used them. Only 12 percent of teens say that the last conversation they had with their parents about drug use included synthetic HGH at all.
And unlike the data on how many teens use synthetic HGH, the data on how often teens talk about it has remained stable.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.